JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA — Transgender students at public schools in Jacksonville may not be suffering from an increased risk of bullying, despite the widespread narrative to the contrary.
In response to an inquiry related to the prevalence of bullying among transgender students, Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) told Eye on Jacksonville: “We can provide a demographic breakdown by gender of the aggressor and victim for each bullying incident. However, we are unable to determine if the root cause of a bullying incident is due to a student’s gender identification.”
THE NUMBERS BEHIND BULLYING
DCPS announced they would begin tallying bullying complaints back in 2010, the Florida Times Union reported. Prior to that, the district was unable to track bullying incidents if the school did not discipline anyone.
With nearly 127,000 students and over 200 schools, DCPS is currently the sixth largest school district in Florida. Throughout the 180-day school year, DCPS reported 42 total incidents of bullying of any kind during the 2020–2021 school year, according to data from the state’s School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting (SESIR). Curiously, that number apparently increased over seven times, jumping to 297 during the 2021–2022 school year, information from The Florida Standard’s public record’s request indicates.
There is reason to question the accuracy of the district’s reported incidents. In August, a grand jury found that DCPS failed to report a total of more than 2,000 alleged crimes from 2016–2019. Last month, the district was one of five in the state to receive a letter from the Department of Education (DOE), claiming DCPS continues to underreport crimes that occur on school grounds. DCPS disputed the claim.
“We do not categorize, file, or store bullying incidents by a type or cause,” DCPS spokesperson Laureen Ricks said in an email. “There would be no responsive records to a similar request for bullying incidents related to race, political affiliation, weight differences, sports rivalries, etc.”
DCPS administers a Youth Risk Behavior Survey in partnership with the Florida Department of Health, Ricks said. The survey, taken every other year, monitors bullying and other unhealthy or dangerous behaviors such as substance abuse, STDs and obesity. Ricks cited it as “one of the primary ways we receive insights into risk factors among our children.”
The most recent survey, from 2019, indicates 40 percent of all students reported being bullied on school property. The survey utilizes the CDC’s definition of bullying: “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths, who are not siblings or current dating partners, that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated.”
If 40 percent of the roughly 127,000 students in DCPS were bullied just one time throughout the 180-day school year, it would amount to well over 50,000 incidents. Did students draw upon an inflated perception of bullying when responding to the survey? Or are they simply unwilling to report the vast majority of legitimate instances of bullying? Whatever the reason, there is a major gap between what students consider to be bullying when responding to a survey and what they are willing to report – assuming DCPS figures are accurate.
Some statistics in the report show the breakdown among homosexual and bisexual students, comprising 18 percent of the respondents, but nothing specific to gender identity.
LGBTQ+ SUPPORT GUIDE
The district’s LGBTQ+ Support Guide is currently undergoing revisions after significant public scrutiny. In April, school board member Charlotte Joyce filed a resolution to remove the phrase “It is never appropriate to divulge the sexual orientation of a student to a parent” saying it violates the new Parental Rights in Education law. Nearly 300 people signed up to speak during the public comment portion of the subsequent meeting. One month later, DCPS announced the support guide would be revised, News4Jax reported.
Among other things, the guide (archived by Jacksonville Today) advised teachers to permit students to:
Be addressed by the name/gender pronoun with which they are comfortable. Some examples include: He/She; They/Them; or Ze/Zir. This list is not meant to be exhaustive.
Develop a plan for restroom and/or locker room use corresponding to their consistently asserted gender identity (at a minimum, not be forced to use the restroom and/or locker room that corresponds with their sex assigned at birth).
Play on the sports team corresponding with their consistently asserted gender identity.
The guide stated that “Transgender students are disproportionately targeted for harassment and violence both at home and at school.” Perhaps this statement will be modified when the updated guide is released.